Trinity X 2019
The Reverend Beau McLaurin Davis, Sr.
Reconciliation (Invitation, Gen.Confession, Absolution, Comfy Words)
LET thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of thy humble servants; and, that they may obtain their petitions, make them to ask such things as shall please thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We too often make the assumption that a just god will answer all prayers and prevent us from any harm or sadness. That is what it would mean if God were all-powerful, all-knowing, and of all-goodness. If he knew all, can do all, and wanted the best for all, then he would keep us in a state of bliss. Christ told the disciples (in a passage which we read on Rogation Sunday), “Whatsoever you shall ask the Father in my name, believe it and he will give it [to] you.” That means -if he exists, and if he is who we say he is- that God will do whatever we want, right? That is the position of many of our mistaken Christian brethren. I’ve used this as an example, in past lectures and sermons, the theology of the deceased Rev. Dr. Myles Munroe; who taught that your prayer is a contract with God. If you pray anything and end it with, “in Jesus’s name, AMEN!”, then God is required to give you what you prayed for...as long as you have true faith. That belief can only result in three things: either God grants your prayer every time you pray, and your faith is proven; or you realize that you are deficient in faith when your prayers go unfulfilled; or you realize that God doesn’t love you and you must be already damned.
I imagine that the majority of you have prayers which have been unfulfilled (even if you said “in Jesus’s name, AMEN!”). If the Rev. Dr. Munroe is right, then God doesn’t love you. You do not have true belief. Or, it might be possible that the Rev. Dr. Munroe might be wrong, and God isn’t a genie who grants wishes at will; and the answer to your prayers might be dependent on your faith in light of your faith being guided by Christ and not your own desires and appetites. What Christ was telling us is what we prayed for in the Collect of the Day: that we would, through God’s guidance, ask such things as shall please Him. Then what, pray tell, is the type of prayer which shall please him? It is not that prayer which seeks personal prosperity (money, fame, power, passionate love) that Christ promised would be fulfilled, but that type of prayer which outwardly seeks the benefit of the world and inwardly seeks the sanctification of our souls.
What we can hope for ourselves is that we would be conformed to God’s will, and that he would forgive us our sins. Only through our conformity to God’s will can we worthily come to the altar and receive the body and blood of Christ, and thus our Salvation. The Catholic faith teaches that we are to seek harmony with God through the Sacrament of Reconciliation -to confess our sins, make an act of penitence, and receive absolution- before we can presume to be worthy to receive the grace bestowed in Christ’s Body and Blood. In the Roman Church, one is compelled to go to Private Confession before every reception of the Blessed Sacrament of the altar (usually to go on Saturday morning to a confessional before Mass on Sunday). Up until the Reformation, confession was done publicly; with all of your sins proclaimed before everyone you knew. You would stand before the congregation (whether naked or in a hair shirt was your option), and yell your transgressions in some detail where everybody in the parish could hear it. After this, public penance was made prior to the priest granting absolution. If you study about the selling of forgivenesses (indulgences) with this in mind, then you might understand why people were so willing to pay (monetarily) for the absolution of their sins.
In the Reformation and Counterreformation in the 1500’s, the nature of the Sacrament of Reconciliation changed. The Church of Rome began to institute private confession done in secret between the faithful and the priest alone. In continental Europe, Protestant sects disposed of Confession altogether: stating that confessing sins was to be done to God alone, and that a priest could not forgive your sins.
-Anglicanism, understanding that Christ himself instituted the Sacrament of Penance explicitly in the Gospel (St. John 20, St. Matthew 16 & 18), came to understand the difference in the sins which we commit every day and those which weigh heavy on our souls. For those sins which our own consciences convict us of, we still need to confess those privately to a priest, but for those sins which we commit otherwise (becoming angry because someone cut you off in traffic, gluttony at the Golden Corral, laziness on a Saturday) the church integrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation into the worship services.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is found in the Orders of Morning and Evening Prayer and in that of Holy Communion. We call these General Confessions. In each service, you are invited to confess your sins if you are truly sorry for them, acknowledge your guilt, and have made amendment with those who you have wronged. Without truly feeling sorry the Sacrament of Reconciliation is of no effect, and you will receive the Body of Blood of Christ to your damnation instead of salvation. Also, being at odds with friends, family, and neighbors negates the confession (love and charity with your neighbor was the subject of St. Matthew 5 which we read on July 28th: “first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”).
To confess our sins, we place ourselves in a penitent posture. Posture places you in the proper mindset (e.g. slinking down in your seat has a way of showing other people your disdain, and puts you in the mindset that what you are doing is casual and doesn’t really matter). Our posture during the Confession (kneeling, head bowed, and eyes closed [if possible]) is to bring you to the understanding that there is shame in your guilt, which you are at that time laying before God. You are begging God at this point! You have sinned in your what you have thought, in what you have said, and what you have done; and you knew better, yet you still did it. Christ has told you that the smallest private and secret notion of sin in your mind convicts you (anger=murder, lust=adultery), and the penalty of that sin (of every sin) is eternal death. Only you know what sins you have committed in your heart, and here in the service you ask forgiveness as a beggar on your knees. This posturing, along with the optional pounding of the chest (an action which the penitent have done before God for thousands of years) and Sign of the Cross (which Christians have done to remember Christ’s sacrifice for our sins since the 1st century) are the penance which we do during General Confession in public worship. In private confession, the priest will assign you penance which is to give you the knowledge that you have made steps to make amends for your transgressions (and hopefully remind you of your sins so you won't commit them again; i.e. you did the time for the crime).
After your Confession, you must receive Absolution to complete your Reconciliation with God. Only a priest can objectively grant Absolution (once again: St. John 20, St. Matthew 16 & 18). God may forgive your sins through extraordinary means (like Saint Dismas, the Penitent Thief on the Cross), but Christ himself guaranteed that his priests could do so. When reading Morning & Evening Prayer, laity and deacons have to skip that section of absolution. The priest makes an action (today we make the Sign of the Cross, but in more Protestant times it was just the uplifting of a hand) along with the words so that you know he is without a doubt forgiving your sins through Jesus Christ our Lord. “At this point now ✠ your sins are forgiven.”
We end the Sacrament of Reconciliation with biblical guarantee that what has just happened to you in you Confession and Absolution of all your sins has been of effect, and that what the congregation is about to undertake is God’s plan of salvation. This section is called the Comfortable Words. It is to be comforting to know that, through Christ, God has established everything you need to destroy your shortcomings. You emerge from this point of brokenness in the contemplation of everything you have done to turn away from God with the promise that -even though you have willingly rejected him- God has reached out to you to bring you back to him through his Son. This prayer for forgiveness, not the prayer for material prosperity, is that prayer which pleases God.